Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kenya BPO gets training support.....but..

Kenya’s Business Process Outsourcing industry is headed for a major competitive boost after last week’s launch of the “LiveBean Scholarship Program” valued at US$ 300,000.

The scholarship is sponsored by LiveBean consulting, one of India’s outsourcing business and is expected to benefit the BPO and Contact Center Professionals in Kenya and demonstrate that the country is ready to take up its place as a leading destination of outsourcing business.

Big companies look for professionalism and experience in business, which the Indian firm hopes to transfer through the training program. Lack of training is one of the major problems affecting the Kenya Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. India is one of the leading outsourcing destinations but the focus is slowly shifting to Africa.

The scholarship program will be rolled out in phases, and will provide skills in operations management, people management, customer relationship management and strategic business essentials, said Mahesh Punia, CEO of LiveBean Consulting, who launched the program on Friday August 22nd.

The training will be offered in conjunction with “The Call Center School,” based in Tennessee, USA and is expected to attract several applicants from the BPO sector. The scholarship will be administered by the Kenya BPO Society. Kenya ICT Board is also expected to play a major role in the scholarship program.

The scholarship may be a good idea, but the BPO society and the ICT board need to scrutinize the source of the funds and whether there are any strings attached. The society and ICT board officials need to read the fine print and establish whether the scholarship ties any of the society members or scholars in any way.

While LiveBean is said to be a leading company with a track record of revamping customer service functions for leading organizations and setting up highly successful customer contact centers in India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Europe, it may be important to tread carefully on the training credentials.

In a brief to members, James Ochola an executive officer at the BPO society said that LiveBean team had experience in business combinations comprising of mergers/acquisitions and strategic alliances for specific units like contact centers.

From the website, LiveBean officials look very experienced but their training credentials do not say much about success of trained BPO professionals. LiveBean Consulting & Training Private Limited was founded in July 2007 to operate in Consulting, Training, and Customer Experience Research & Management.

With such a young company, Kenya may be used as a starting ground for the company and it does not mean that the BPO professionals will get high quality training compared to that offered by established companies such as Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC).

There is nothing wrong with a new company setting up training base in Kenya with the view of expanding its market but the sector will win the international legitimacy battle by also engaging the more established trainers.

While the course will cover basics in finance, contract negotiations and management, customer relationship, outsourcing it will also describe the process of managing the relationship between client and service provider.

There is no doubt about the experience of the training team and the Kenyan officers from various BPO companies will gain skills such as practicing the recommended techniques for transferring callers or putting them on hold, and recognize best practices when relying upon voice mail communications.

Lack of training is just one of the challenges facing the BPO sector, lack of project planning and management is a huge challenge for the sector. Most people were inspired to start or pump more money because of the promised bandwidth subsidy from the World Bank.

The subsidy, to be administered by the ICT board, has taken long to be released by the World Bank and most BPO’s have closed shop.

“I have learnt that many people doing business today should not have started in the first place, many need to take a step back and reflect on the fundamentals such as business plans and contingency plans; if the bandwidth subsidy does not come, what do we do?,” poses Paul Kukubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT board.

If the challenges are addressed, Kenya hopes to catch up with top outsourcing destinations such as South Africa and Egypt.
South Africa leads Africa's BPO sector; performing call center services and all types of back office operations, while Egypt is second with significant outsourcing work. This is according to Peter Ryan, a call center analyst for Datamonitor, which provides a barometer for BPO activity on the African continent.
South Africa and Egypt have used a four-pronged approach to attract BPO companies: tax breaks; competitive telecommunications rates; training funds; and marketing aid. For instance, telecom rates are as low as shs3.50 per minute to Western Europe and North America. International bandwidth of 2Mega bits per second circuits costs shs 254,000 ($3,800) per month while in Kenya the same bandwidth costs shs 670,000 (US$ 10,000).
Faced with these statistics, Mauritius is aggressively pursuing its vision of making the island a major BPO destination on the continent. It presently has 23 operators in its Ebène Cyber Tower with a second tower under construction.
Other countries in the South African region like Botswana are making a huge push to attract investment in the BPO sector, offering solid packages. Botswana, for example, offers a guaranteed corporate tax of 15 percent until June 2020.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Maasai and tech

Though the Maasai hold on to their traditions, technology plays a vital role. The cell phone has made a marked difference in this community probably more than it has in many other communities.
Given the distances between one home to another, the phone comes in handy, especially during cattle raids or when communicating with herders in the field.

The ultimate romance

While in college I attended a course on intercultural communication and Dr. Marete, who was the course instructor talked about the various cultural interpretations about romance and how we define who knows how to love and who doesn’t.

The world has become so westernized that romance is defined by how many times you say “I love you”, the exotic dinners and the flowers one sends or receives. So he talked about the traditional African culture and the definition of romance.

Ever heard of stories that men batter women because they love them? That an African woman is considered weak if he tells a woman he loves her? That land and children is all that a woman needs to know she is loved? Well those are stories that have been watered down over time.

When I went to Magadi last week, I met Elijah, a Maasai guy. He had a walking stick and I thought it was for older guys, so I asked him why he was carrying it and he said it was because it was made by the wife.

I enquired how long it takes to make the stick embossed with colorful beads and decorates. It takes not less than two days. That’s the sign of love from his wife, and he treasures it, he won’t even sell it at any price.

In return, Elijah is the warrior in the family, the guy who ensured that the hyenas and lions do not get away with any of the cows or livestock. That rule is not written anywhere but everyone knows it.

The encounter with Elijah made me wonder why that cannot be defined as the ultimate romance; the sign of dedication and love.

It is cultural and it is how we communicate it, I thought it was very touching…..

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympics, Masai Mara and infrastructure sharing

It was sad that KBC was erratic in showing Olympics live. It was erratic and not-understandable, they were showing some funny live matches and the most important to us were delayed or not shown at all, or maybe they did at midnight.

But on Sunday, they televised live from Beijing and from Masai Mara courtesy of KTN. It was nice to see the KBC screen split, showing updates from Beijing and Masai Mara. You can imagine what will happen when we have the fiber and cost of bandwidth becomes cheaper, KIXP will experience great local capacity.

Infrastructure sharing is not new in Kenyan media, in the past, KBC was offering the link during the national holidays like Kenyatta day, we are yet to see NTV and KTN collaborating on some live events.

I wish our telecoms sector would be the same, that when the Safaricom masts become congested, some of the traffic can be moved to zain, so that communication is not interrupted. But again, that may only be a pipe dream.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Protecting ICT consumer interests

Who is an ICT consumer? A friend of mine asked. Hmmm….. had not thought about it that way, but I guess it refers to anyone who is an end user of ICT services and products.

Is the CCK capable of protecting consumer interests as well as those of big telcos? That was another question I could not answer, because it is only the regulator who can answer and or demonstrate its capability.

Its disempowering to know that we all have complaints against providers at one time or another but lack the proper mechanisms to channel them. Why has CCK not made adequate use of technology, why not have an online forums or blog in its site that we can rant and pour out the frustrations?

I think someone needs to tell CCK about the call completion rates and the call drop rates because I do not think the guys there do a good job of monitoring the GSM companies.
I recall they bought some equipment to measure the call drop and completion rates at some point, I think its two years ago, but it seems it has not been put to proper use.

Friday, August 01, 2008